Ellen’s closet is packed. Mine…not so much, especially during the winter months. I have four flannel shirts that I rotate through each week. Ellen threatens me that she is going to burn them. I threaten her that I will leave her if she does. Of course I’m joking. I’m not sure she is. A man shouldn’t have to put a lock on his closet door. Anyway…
Shirts remind me of the labels we put on people. Everybody has favorite shirts, or pants, or shoes, and everybody, or so it seems to me, has their favorite labels that they like to put on others.
In the church world we have shirts we like to put on people. We’ve got Evangelicals and Liberals, Charismatics and non-Charismatics, Egalitarians and Complementarians, Gay welcoming and affirming and Gay welcoming but not affirming, Calvinists and Arminians, Traditionalists and Progressives, pro-Flannel shirts and anti-Flannel shirts. This is just a partial list of the many labels we like to put on people. As I see it there are four problems with labels.
1. With labels, as with clothing, seldom does one size fit all. For example, many Evangelicals believe some things Progressives believe (politically and theologically) and vice versa. Some Progressives consider themselves Evangelicals. I know some Southern Baptists that are more Charismatic than some Charismatics.
2. It is hard to label a person without there being contempt attached. Just listen to the next person you hear put a label on someone. They might not use these exact words but you can still hear in their voice “Those stupid…” tacked on to the beginning of their sentence, or, “…and I’m better than they are.” added to the end of their sentence.
3. Labels lead to arguing and arguing never works.
Arguing doesn’t work. It is pointless. The only thing an argument does is make someone angry or hurt. The same is true with debating. You might win the debate but in so doing you create a loser. No one wants to be a loser. You’ve won but forced someone else to become something they don’t want to be. Arguing and debating draws a line in the sand and eventually the sides retreat away from each other with the line in between them.
Some pastors seem to enjoy arguing and debating and kicking sand in the eyes of those they disagree with. I want none of that.
Some pastors can be so bold, brave and belligerent on social media. These opportunities to rant or vent or express ones opinion or “get something off ones chest” seldom change anyone’s mind. All this does is reveal who is on their side and who is not. Ultimately no one has grown from either side, no one has learned or changed. Hurt and pain grows, but not much more than that. I don’t want to be that kind of person.
This reminds me of Paul’s advice to Timothy when selecting elders in the church. “Don’t pick anyone who is addicted to wine or pugnacious (loves a good fight, quarrelsome, one who leaves a bruise), but look for one who is gentle and peaceable.” I Tim. 3:3
That’s the type of person I want to be.
4. Finally, when I label a person I fail to see the person as a person and instead see them as a label. Labels limit. Labels limit my ability to love the person as God loves them and see the person as God sees them. The person I label, the person I have contempt for, is dearly loved by the Father we both share.